Monday, January 21, 2013

Pain and Suffering

Photo of the month:
Reading by flashlight during a hurricane, 2004 

Quote of the month:

Suffering happens when 
you believe thoughts that tell you 
that something should be happening 
other than what IS happening.
- Scott Kiloby

Most of us have heard the term "pain and suffering" in a legal context. It is used in a way that indicates the two go together. This won't be a legal discussion but I want to offer another way to look at "pain and suffering" and separate them into two different things. This post will suggest that while pain is inevitable. It is part of the human experience..... suffering is optional.

Pain is the "ouch" when you hit your finger.  Suffering is everything else that comes after that.... "Why was I so stupid?" "Who put the hammer there?" "Who made these cheap nails?"  "I am such a chump... it always happens to me... why me?" (victim) or maybe you are not the victim but the victimizer and yell, "!*#$ hammer!!!" As you throw it across the room.

This is the world of suffering... all of this latter part is an illusion that is created in the mind. The pain is real. The pain is what happened... it is "what is," but that is only about 5% of it. The other 95% we usually think is pain is actually suffering. It is being made up in our minds. 

Let's apply this idea to a different kind of pain. Let's use the example of someone breaking off a relationship with you. This is real. This is "what is" and is mentally or emotionally painful. No one, no matter how enlightened they may become will escape pain in life. But  what usually comes next..... "I can't believe he/she broke up with me." "Why?! Why?!! Why?!!!" "Why did I ever go out with him?" "What's wrong with me?"  "Maybe I'm not handsome enough."  "I must have been stupid to go out with him!" "Maybe it's that other girl at school. I bet she stole him away."  "Maybe I should have gone to that pottery class with her, then she would have liked me more." Do I need to go on....? Can you add a few of your own to the list?

Sometimes, there can be a bit of drama in our house when it comes to doing homework. The fact is that if one wants a good grade, the homework must be completed. When the drama starts, I Simply point out that if one wants to, they CAN have the drama, and THEN do the homework - - OR - - they can Simply do the homework. I won't say that homework is necessarily painful, but the added drama is the optional suffering.

One more example..... you got a bad grade on a test or a negative evaluation at work. That would be a painful experience. Here comes the suffering.... "I can't believe it!" "I studied hard.. I am so stupid." "That test was so unfair - way too hard." "Maybe I should have done that homework!" - - -  "My boss is such a jerk."  "He doesn't know what he's talking about." "My boss doesn't care about me." Again, imagine yourself in either of these situations and see if you can add a few more of your own.

So, what is to be done about this? My first suggestion is to accept that pain is part of life and part of being human.  Next, just try to become aware of when you may be crossing over from pain into suffering. When you realize you may be creating some suffering - do NOT create even more suffering by berating yourself. We all have done it and continue to do it.

Remind yourself of what is real and what actually "IS." What is factual... and what exists. Sitting with actual pain is generally not as bad as we think it will be. Just allowing the pain to be without the extra drama of suffering allows real pain to dissipate more quickly.

Finally, I'll close with a Simple example.  The photo above was taken during a hurricane.  The power went out, which while not painful was unpleasant.  Instead of complaining and "suffering," we got out a flashlight and made the best of it... which soon led to flashlight tag and good memories instead of a miserable time.  

It is not always easy and life can sometimes be more complicated, but I offer this as a suggestion for a starting point!

Until next month,
Keep it Simple,


Kent said...

Great post, P. I particularly liked the homework analogy. (The boys must love that when you pull that on them.) But you're exactly right.

I wonder if I can apply your insight to my needless battle with my ego: Yes, I have an ego, but I don't have to believe it (or identify with it).

Michael said...

I hope that my drama around the holidays helped inspire you a little with this post. Then my self-inflicted suffering would at least have some sort of reward! Thanks for always helping us to see things more clearly. Just reading this I realize how much suffering I've added to pain in the past.

Anonymous said...

Thanks P for pointing out how easily the crossover goes from pain to suffering - and the irony of how it's self-inflicted.